So far as movies are concerned, this year New Orleans is the place to be. Already we‘ve had Richard Gere‘s vengeful detective in No Mercy and Mickey Rourke’s private dick in Angel Heart traipsing the dark mean streets of the French Quarter. Following hard on their heels is the superior thriller The Big Easy, whose singular title derives from the locals‘ nickname for the place itself, and which follows crooked Cajun cop Dennis Quaid and straight-laced investigator Ellen Barkin through a trail of police corruption. gangland carnage, and romantic involvement. It wasn‘t always that way though,
as director Jim McBride explains; “Originally it was called Windy City and was about the police in Chicago, with lots of Italian names and a completely incomprehensible plot. It was written by a guy called Dan Petrie Jnr, who was called in to do the ﬁfteenth rewrite on Beverly Hills Cop and as a result became rich and famous. He‘d previously has trouble selling it, but when he became hot the producer who bought it offered it to me to direct. I did a lot of rewriting, unfortunately uncredited. to change the location to New Orleans and make it just a little more interesting, because it‘s a place where the people have a real sense of their own uniqueness and identity.‘ Without ever lapsing into cliched visions of brass bands and wrought-iron encrusted whorehouses, the movie‘s slightly unfamiliar accents and pervasive foot-tapping zydeco rhythms on the soundtrack bear out his words and add a piquancy to the already somewhay flavoursome characterisation of the central relationship.
With Quaid gradually realising the debit side of too much relaxed rule-bending in the police procedural department, and Barkin slowly warming from a legal type‘s chilly aloofness, theirs is one of the most agreeable screen twosomes in a while. not least because their hothouse passion seems born out of a mutually antagonistic sense of fun. Last seen as the flirty aunt in Eugene Corr‘s Desert Bloom, but still probably best known as the unfortunate bride-to-be subjected to a football knowledge test in Barry Levinson‘s splendid Diner, Ellen Barkin peers through a rather daffy pair of horn-rimmed specs and points out that this most endearing aspect of the film was a bit of a team effort; “Although Jim had considerably altered the script before we came along. he got together with Dennis and myself and together we all worked through it again to try to bring out the humour in the partnership, though we had to fight the powers-that-be all the way. The atmosphere on set so relaxed, creatively, that you could still be kind of stupid while all the serious acting stuff was going on.‘
As someone who studied for ten years. including a spell at the famous New York School For The Performing Arts. before she even
WHEN YOU KNOW HOW
Trevor Johnston meets two conspirators in the plot of the new New Orleans thriller, The Big Easy.
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we ’1' v” considered going for an audition one suspects that she does not talk of "serious acting stuff“ at all lightly. Now a member of the prestigious Actors‘ Studio along with other “method‘ luminaries De Niro, Pacino et al, her portrayal of a dedicated Special Prosecutor from the District Attorney‘s office in The Big Easy presented her with something of a challenge. ‘Actually, I‘d never played anyone who‘d ever had a job before, ‘she admits. ‘I‘ve always been the sort of character who has to cope with some monumental emotional problem and who just tries to get through the day. At first I really wondered whether I could be this lawyer person, because I‘m really not at all like that. But when I went down to New Orleans I worked with a woman attorney, who
when she was in court had the smart suit and the string of pearls routine, but at home would be wearing cycling pants and a spiked up hairdo. So my attitudes were broken down and it helped me get into the part.‘ Jim McBride is someone else who has learnt over the years to change his preconceptions. First acclaimed for his low-budget independent debut David Holzman '3 Diary, 3 hit on the Festival circuit. Like future Hollywood doyens Scorcese and De Palma who also made their first features in New.York in the late Sixties, McBride was working in a style heavily influenced by Godard and the French New Wave. ‘What happened in the early Seventies,’ the director continues, ‘was that the country went into a depression and all the patrons who would put money
into a small art movie just didn‘t seem to have that sort of spare cash any more. So I had to go to Hollywood, and did so thinking that independent success meant that I‘d made it.
‘I couldn‘t have been more wrong. I‘d have been better going out there as Nobody, rather than as this wild and dangerous art movie-maker, because they just didn‘t want to know.‘ McBride‘s platinum hair and steely Newman blue eyes make him look older than his mid-forties and attest to wearying years of ambitions unfulfilled. Yet in 1983 he finally hit paydirt after a long struggle, which took in several leading men (De Niro, Busey. Pacino, Travolta, and finally Gere) and a variety of directors (McBride, Franc Roddam, Michael Mann, then McBride again), with an LA remake/remodel of Godard‘s Breathless that had a gorgeous comic strip look to it and featured Gere and one Valerie Kaprisky in a frenzied set-piece shower love-making extravaganza to the pulsating strains of Presley‘s ‘Suspicious Minds‘.
However, following in the wake of Gere‘s megabucks OfﬁcerAndA Gentleman the movie didn‘t make enough at the box office to impress the money men, and since then the current offering is the first thing to come his way. ‘I guess I‘ve now become quite a traditional film-maker, and my admiration for the Hollywood studio contract directors and the way they did wonders with the material that happened to be offered to them has certainly grown over the years. I decided to do The Big Easy because it was a similar kind of assignment. not something I‘d initiated myself, and I wanted to see if I could bring anything ofmyself to it.‘ McBride screened Howard Hawks His Girl Friday for the cast and crew to give them some idea of the feel he was looking for. Not quite Godard really.
More echoes ofold Hollywood in Ellen Barkin‘s proposed next project as well. ‘It‘s a movie written by Julius Epstein, the guy who wrote the script
for Casablanca. He‘s still very much alive and he‘s in his late seventies I think‘. While embarassed to admit that she didn‘t recognise the name at first. she certainly seems enthusiastic about the film‘s prospects: ‘We hope to do it this winter (it‘s called Happy All the Time) but it‘s not fully cast yet. I play this New York Jewish intellectual “maturing as a person“. It‘s got real old-time dialogue where everyone is very witty.
‘You know I always wondered about that because I‘ve found that it‘s pretty much the case that in real-life. I mean people are funny. But in the movies you only get laughs ifit‘s a zany scene. I guess that‘s what I really like about The Big Easy; the people are always snappy without it turning into some sort ofcomedy‘. The Big Easy opens Fri 20 November at Cannon, Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow; Cannon Falkirk; Cannon K ilmarnock; and Odeon Hamilton.
6 The List 13 — 26 November 1987